STARKVILLE, Tenn. - A three-run eighth inning enabled 14th-ranked Tennessee to complete a three-game sweep of Mississippi State on Sunday afternoon, 5-3.
Freshman Monica Abbott went the distance, and moved over the 300-strikeout plateau on the season, to run her mark to 23-4 on the campaign. Sophomore Katherine Card provided the go-ahead single in extra frames as the Lady Vols (26-8, 7-4 SEC) claimed all three outings from the Bulldogs (20-16, 2-10 SEC) for the first time.
Senior Lauren Mattox cranked a one-out double down the right field line off freshman pitcher Stephanie Comeaux in the second inning and advanced to third on a base-hit by classmate Angela Brewer. Sophomore Mandie Fishback lined out to the MSU second baseman but a poor throw attempting to turn an inning-ending double play allowed Mattox to come home with an unearned run to break the ice.
Sophomore Kristi Durant started the fourth with a single up the middle and senior Amber Rhinehart laid down a sacrifice bunt to advance sophomore pinch runner Kim Anders. A collision at first base enabled Anders to occupy third base. Mattox was hit by a pitch to give the Lady Vols runners on the corners but Brewer grounded into a 6-4-3 double play to keep the margin at 1-0.
Bulldog senior All-American Iyhia McMichael unleashed a leadoff double in the bottom of the frame and senior Jennifer Waterman dropped in a Texas Leaguer to give the hosts two runners on base. Abbott retired freshman Katie Johnson on a fly ball to right field but senior Lindsay Nelson dragged a bunt for a double to tie the score and leave MSU with runners on second and third. The Lady Vol left-hander responded by fanning both senior Blaire Brown and senior pinch hitter Brandi Watkins.
Sophomore Sarah Fekete slapped a hit to start the eighth and moved to second on Schutzler's sacrifice. Card came through with a clutch single into center to score Fekete and alertly took second on the relay throw to the plate. Durant followed with another base-hit to provide the Lady Vols with a 4-2 advantage. Rhinehart continued the offensive barrage with a single into right to spell the end of the afternoon for Massey. Mattox welcomed rookie reliever Kelli Miller with a single up the middle to fill the bases and Brewer lofted a sacrifice fly into right field to boost the margin to 5-2. McMichael, the 2003 SEC Player of the Year, later pulled the 'Dogs to within 5-3 on her seventh homer of the season, a leadoff shot over the center field wall.
Abbott totaled 10 strikeouts for her 19th double-digit K outing of the campaign and allowed seven hits and three runs. MSU's Melissa Massey (8-7) was on the hook for the defeat after giving up six hits and four runs over 3.1 innings. Card and Durant were 2-for-4 for Tennessee, while Mattox was a perfect 2-for-2. McMichael was a strong 3-for-4 and scored three runs for State.
Tennessee will begin an 11-game homestand on Wednesday with a doubleheader at 4 p.m. versus Austin Peay. The Lady Vols will host the Lady Vol Classic from Friday through Sunday against Gardner-Webb, Liberty, Tennessee Tech and UTEP. The next SEC series for the Weeklys' club will be against No. 15 South Carolina at Tyson Park on March 30 and 31.